ICE London: Tribes tout igaming as ‘inevitable’ future of gambling in California

February 8, 2023 12:49 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports
February 8, 2023 12:49 PM
  • Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, CDC Gaming Reports

Pechanga Band of Indians Chairman Mark Macarro told ICE attendees yesterday that igaming was ‘inevitable’ in California in the long-term, as Millennials drive new gaming channels.

Story continues below

Macarro was addressing a seminar on California sports betting at ICE on Tuesday when he was asked how he expected gaming to change in the state over the next two years.

“I think there’s a demographic proclivity to want to play online. It doesn’t exist right now with the Baby Boomers and Gen X. But Millennials are different players and we’re not sure that slot machines will be what they want to play”, he said.

However, the debate was framed in the context of California’s failed bid to legalise sports betting last year. In November, the state’s electorate unequivocally rejected two ballet propositions, one backed primarily by commercial operators and the other by the state’s tribes.

Macarro and his fellow panellist California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) chairman James Siva agreed that the spectacular failure to convince voters to mandate legal sports betting was the result of commercial operators’ refusing to cooperate with the state’s tribes. Describing the extent of the tribes’ influence in California, Siva explained, “Two hundred and seventy tribes across the nation are involved in gaming in some way. Seventy of those tribes are California”. CNIGA, he added, represents 45 of them.

Citing a recent report on total gaming revenue in the U.S., Siva went on to say: “Tribal gaming now represents 44% of the total gaming market in the U.S. 24% of that 44% is solely California tribes. So you break that down and that means that California tribes represent nearly a tenth of the entire gaming market of the U.S. Commercial, tribal, everything”.

With this in mind, Siva expressed surprise that the commercial operators attempted to “strong arm” the tribes in their counter proposition to enter California, instead of taking a diplomat approach to partnering with them.

“Either they massively underestimated the size and reach of those tribes, both politically and financially, or they maybe had bad campaign consultants”, he said.

Neither Macarro nor Siva ruled out workable partnerships with commercial operators in the future, but both agreed that the tribes would not be the ones to reach out. The onus, they insisted, is on the commercial operators to proactively repair relations.

“I think there’s still a path for tribes and the commercial operators to work together, but it’s going to be a path and relationship that’s decided by the tribes. This isn’t the first time we’ve had commercial entities want a seat at the table as equal to tribes”, Siva said.

This need for commercial entities to respect the sovereignty of the California tribes and negotiate with them for access to California, as they would with legislators and regulators in other states, was reiterated by Macarro, who promised that the tribes would always counter non-diplomatic attempts to launch in the state.

“Among the things we learned is that if you have two similar-sounding measures in front of the voters on the same ballot, they will get confused and vote no”, he said, reflecting again on November’s vote.

“So if nothing else changes from the corporates, if they make another run at this without doing a lot of the stuff we talked about as being necessary to be successful, it’ll be regarded as hostile by the tribes. And all we would have to do is put another ballot on the initiative. Confuse the voters, they’ll vote no, and both will go down in flames again”, he said.